How do cats cool themselves down? There are three ways for cats to cool themselves down (1) perspiration (2) panting (3) saliva evaporation on their coat. A fourth is more obvious: cats find a shady spot.
Cats don’t have sweat glands in the skin like humans. They have eccrine sweat glands in their paw pads. “Eccrine” refers to the typical sweat glands that humans have. The word is derived from ‘ekkrinen’ meaning ‘to secrete’. Often cats sweat from stress when visiting the veterinary clinic and you’ll see the sweat deposited by the paws on the veterinarian’s consultation table. The cat may even pant at a clinic for the same reason.
This limited number of sweat glands help in dissipating heat but they are not a major contributor.
Cats pant like dogs but less often. It lowers body temperature through the process called the ‘latent heat of vaporisation’. As I understand it, it cools the body because heat is absorbed to alter the physical state of a liquid (saliva) to vapor. As heat is absorbed to evaporate saliva at the surface of the mouth heat is removed from the air so the cat feels cooler.
A follow on from panting is when cats lick themselves and deposit their saliva on their coat. The saliva evaporates absorbing heat and cooling the body. This is akin to sweating but instead of sweat evaporating, saliva evaporates. The end result is the same in terms of cooling as the same scientific process takes place.
Note: when panting is rapid and labored it may be caused by heatstroke if the cat is anxious. Also very stressed or frightened cats will pant and breathe through an open mouth.